Dayton calls for quick solutions to high health insurance costs

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday guaranteed that the cost of health care will echo in Minnesotans' decisions as they vote for the next Legislature in November.

ST. PAUL - Gov. Mark Dayton on Friday guaranteed that the cost of health care will echo in Minnesotans’ decisions as they vote for the next Legislature in November.

A week after bluntly critiquing the Affordable Care Act for making health care unaffordable for many, Dayton called on Republican and Democratic state lawmakers to reach quick agreement on fixes. He wants legislators to have their joint plan ready by Nov. 1 - a week before Election Day.

“Time is running short, so legislators must begin their work immediately,” Dayton said.

The governor’s comments on the cost increases have played a starring role in Republican ads against Democrats, and Dayton said Friday he heard from a deputy assistant to President Obama about them. Dayton said Friday he regretted that Republicans are using his comments but his main point remains: something must be done to help those struggling with cost burdens.

He is not alone in calling for changes. Republicans say the coming health care cost increases, which impact a minority of Minnesotans, show that the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is broken. Democrats say Minnesotans need financial help to afford health care.


In recent weeks, thousands of Minnesotans who get their health care through the individual market were left reeling by insurance premium quotes. Lawmakers tell of people contacting them in tears or with fears that the bills will break them.

“This issue is one that we hear about more than anything else,” said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.

Jean Roe, a farmer from tiny Le Roy in southern Minnesota, said her family’s health premium bill could go up by $1,000 or $2,500 a month next year, depending on which plan they choose. The result could eat up half of her family’s monthly income. The deductible could be as high as $13,000, she said.

“We cannot afford it, and where do you turn?” said Roe, 57. She said she doesn’t blame Democrats or Republicans for the problem. “Put your political stands aside and come together and fix it.”

Only about 5 percent of Minnesotans buy their health insurance on the individual market, and many of those qualify for tax subsidies to bring the costs down. Most others get their health care through their employers or are on government-subsidized plans. An estimated 120,000 Minnesotans buy health care coverage individually and make too much for tax breaks.

“These are the Minnesotans who urgently need our help,” Dayton said.

For the first time Friday, the DFL governor set a Nov. 1 deadline, shortly before those on the individual market have to pick their plans, for the Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to come up with a solution. The governor said he would like lawmakers to redirect $313 million, slated to go into the state’s reserve fund in December, to help Minnesotans afford their premiums. Dayton had previously said he would only grapple with the issue after the Nov. 8 election because before then partisanship would block any chance of cooperation. Even as he asked lawmakers to put aside their partisanship, he berated Republicans in Congress for failing to adopt fixes to the Affordable Care Act.

On Thursday, Senate Democrats called for a special session, perhaps before the election, to approve tax credits to cap premiums for those buying health insurance through the individual market.


“We think that’s relatively easy to address,” said Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. “The sooner we do this the better.”

House Republicans earlier this month proposed a tax reduction, use of $35 million for immediate premium relief and moving Minnesota from using its own health exchange, called MNsure, to the federal exchange to reduce costs and expand choices. Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Friday Republicans want to get to work immediately.

“House Republicans are committed to working quickly on ways to reduce costs and address the health care crisis Democrats created,” Daudt said in a statement Friday.

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